Every day, millions of children across the country and around the world cuddle up with their favorite teddy bears. How did toy bears come to be so popular, and how did they come to be called “teddy”? Credit Teddy Roosevelt, our twenty-sixth president, as well as a political cartoonist and some resourceful entrepreneurs.
In 1902 Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, went on a bear-hunting trip in Mississippi. The president was a good hunter, but on this particular trip, he had terrible luck. For several days, he never even saw a bear.
Finally one of his guides cornered a small black bear, wounded it, and tied it to a tree. Then he called for the president to come shoot it. Teddy the sportsman resolutely refused. He had eagerly shot grizzly bears in the Wild West, but he had no interest in taking unfair advantage of a terrified, trapped animal.
When Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman heard the story, he drew a picture of the president turning away in disgust from the idea of shooting the helpless bear. The nation loved the fact that their president had spared the poor creature, and in no time it became the story of “Teddy’s bear.”
By early 1903, two Russian Jewish immigrants named Morris and Rose Michtom were making and selling stuffed “Teddy bears” in their Brooklyn shop. (One of the Michtoms’ original stuffed bears can be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) About the same time, toy company FAO Schwarz of New York City began selling plush teddy bears made in a German toy factory. A worldwide craze began, which shows no sign of ebbing more than a century later.